new CEO got a skeptical welcome from Wall Street on Wednesday, after the veteran executive failed to lay out a clear recovery strategy for the troubled software maker.
Indeed, the stock slipped during George Shaheen's introductory conference call, after it had risen earlier in the day.
"We are a little concerned. You said you'd hit the ground running. As you speak, the stock has dropped 21 cents in disappointment over the lack of specificity," said Barry Rosenstein, founder of San Francisco hedge-fund firm Jana Partners, which is long the stock. In heavy trading, shares were recently off 21 cents, or 2.3%, to $8.76.
Shaheen, who has been on Siebel's board for a decade, replaces Michael Lawrie, who resigned under pressure after less than a year on the job.
Shaheen, 60, was CEO of Andersen Consulting, which changed its name to Accenture, and then took the helm of dot-com darling WebVan, the short-lived Internet grocery service.
Chairman and founder Tom Siebel said that Lawrie's departure was by mutual agreement with the board. "The board greatly appreciates Mike Lawrie's professionalism and his diligent service to the company," Siebel said in the press release announcing the shake-up. "We respect Mike and wish him the best for the future."
Pressed for more details during the analyst call, Siebel said that differences over the company's strategic direction were not an issue. "This is all about improved and acceptable performance. That is the only issue."
Earlier this month, Siebel said it would
miss its first-quarter targets, saying revenue in the March quarter will range from $297 million to $300 million, vs. the Wall Street consensus of $337.48 million. At the time, Lawrie promised to cut costs and reduce -- or eliminate -- lines of business that have not performed well. The company reports final earnings for the quarter on April 27.
But Siebel said that he and the board did not base their decision on just one quarter's results. "Look at results over the last four quarters. They did not meet investors' expectations and they did not meet our own internal expectations," he said.
Bruce Daly, who publishes the
, said it had become apparent to company insiders by the end of February that Tom Siebel had become unhappy with Lawrie's performance. And while Siebel has withdrawn from day-to-day management, he remains active behind the scenes. "Anyone who thought he was going to step back and just play golf was wrong," Daly said.
Analysts who follow the company were still caught off guard. The conventional wisdom, as one analyst put it, is that the action could mean that the company will be up for sale.
"But remember, people said that Lawrie was brought in to sell the company," said Sanford Bernstein analyst Charles Di Bona, who noted that the company has a poison pill in place that would probably ward off low-ball offers. So finding an appropriate buyer willing to pay a premium could be difficult, he said. Bernstein does not have a banking relationship with Siebel.
Tom Siebel did not speak to the buyout question, but did say, "This is not an interim CEO position. George has stepped up to deliver consistent leadership and improve the company's performance."
The company's poor performance and large cash balance -- $2.2 billion -- has angered institutional investors,
some of whom plan to meet in New York Wednesday evening. Analysts were quick to ask Shaheen how he plans to put Siebel back on course.
"My key role is to deliver on our promise of customer value. It's my experience that it is the best fuel
to boost the stock." He went on to reiterate his predecessor's opinion that expenses must be brought into line with the company's actual business. Shaheen said he wasn't ready to make cuts, but said he would have at least some of the plan ready by April 27, when the company announces its final results for the March quarter.
Also unclear is how the company plans to answer shareholder demands that it buy back stock to boost share value. Shaheen did not rule that move out, but sounded more inclined to invest the money in the company, perhaps through an acquisition if an appropriate, affordable candidate emerges. But he had no details, either because there is no short list of companies to consider or because he could undermine his own position by revealing his strategy too soon.
Any disappointment Lawrie feels at the failure of his short tenure as CEO will be cushioned by a lucrative severance package. He will receive $1 million a year for two years, plus bonus payments that analysts say could total about $2 million, and 350,000 shares of stock granted when he was hired. He also is entitled to about 800,000 options, most of which are out of the money now, but could be become valuable if the company is acquired or manages to recover.